So today was it, the last day for BioSoft. Everything that's not finished has been farmed out to other companies, and Maureen has helped sell off the office equipment, and computers, and everything.
I feel kind of bad about it. I know the company's collapse isn't actually my fault, and that Carter and I are victims, but we cooperated. I suppose we could have obstructed the investigation, and then BioSoft probably stays in business. But how could we do that?
Only a few folks showed up at the bar around 3pm today. Early to start drinking, and most folks have found new work. I showed, but could only stay for an hour or so - 6pm shift at the restaurant. So it was basically just me, Maureen, and Mr. Towne and Mr. Kraft until I left.
I nursed the one drink and chased it with a couple 7-Ups; not cool to show up with alcohol on your breath. I got back to the table with my first soda, and she looked at me with an odd look. "What's it like when guys hit on you? Is it gross, or funny, or no big deal?"
"Well, today it's no big deal." I'd basically shrugged the guy at the bar who looked down my shirt while giving me a line off; I couldn't even tell Maureen what the line he'd used was. "At first, yeah, it was gross. And you know what's worse? You weren't there when I first started at BioSoft, but Dmitri used to hit on me all the time."
"Seriously. I wonder if he was just being a dick, or if he had some Pygmallion thing and really thought he had a chance with me right at first. Best not to think about it."
"So when't it funny?"
"If I've used the line. If he says something like 'I'll bet you know what a man likes', that sort of thing."
"That happen often?"
"Used to. Don't have time to go out much now."
That's about when Erik shows up and starts in with the "you've got some nerve." And I leave.
Maureen must have had a good time, though, since she still wasn't home when I got here.
Carter & Maureen
Don't know if I've still got friends, but I do at least still have roommates. Carter and Maureen both avoided me in the morning, but that didn't last forever. We all went off to work, Carter, then Maureen, then me, like it was just another morning. Around three o'clock, though, Carter showed up at the restaurant, and I took my break.
"So, did you tell everyone there, too?"
I admitted I hadn't. I barely knew any of them, not like I did the folks at BioSoft. It's hard to even try to make friends at work when you're actively looking for a new job. I did tell them about the name change, saying it was something that was part of my personal life, so that they could put the right name on my paychecks. Folks thought it was weird, but it was a level of weird they could shrug off.
"I'm not going to do it."
I told her I didn't expect her to, although eventually the lying would wear on her. In fact, it would probably feel even better for her, because she wouldn't have to hear people drag her name through the mud and the people she knew might stop treating her like she was just a regular girl.
"So they'd treat me like I'm a freak?"
Well, that's a possibility; I don't know how it's going to shake out for me. But I like not having to worry about slipping up, or feeling guilty about not telling someone something. But I'd be there for her, since she was like a sister to me.
"What's with this sister thing?"
I said that had just slipped out, but she said she guessed she knew where she stood now. She grumbled that my break must be almost over, and walked off.
But, you know, those slips don't come from nowhere. I guess when it comes right down to it, I do think of Carter as a sister now. We've been through so many of the same things, and we'd certainly been living that way for the past few months, but even as I've decided that I'm not Martin Hartle any more, I've been hypocritically kidding myself about who she is. She's not Carter Drummond, no matter what she says or how she feels. But that's a conversation I'm not anxious to have.
Maureen didn't get home until late (Carter left for a run about five minutes after I got home), like she'd been psyching herself up to talk to me. She fiddled around in the kitchen area, then looked at me kind of apologetically. "I... I talked to my boss. I guess he found out when the FBI first started showing up."
"Yeah. Couldn't keep it secret."
"I don't imagine you could have. So..."
She studied the table for a few minutes. I held her hand and told her she could ask me anything. She looked up, took a quick breath, then squeezed my hand. "Are you... confused? You've got a boyfriend, but do you and he... you know..."
I smiled. "We do. It took us a while to do it the first time, since he knew who I used to be, so the whole physical think was awkward for him. And a little for me, but nothing like it was with Kurt."
Her eyes sort of bugged. "Kurt from last night? The guy who said he was Martin's best friend? That's... I mean... Eww."
"That was such a screwed-up relationship. Just a bad idea, really; it was a relief when it was over. But he was my first, as a woman, and it wasn't so bad. Once I wrapped my brain around the concept of someone putting part of themselves inside me - and the part they pee with, at that... I mean, I remembered it making perfect sense as a man, but all of a sudden..."
"It is kind of gross when you think about it. But you got over it, I guess?"
"Yeah. I guess this brain is sort of wired for heterosexuality. You can't fight the body too much on this, or you drive yourself nuts."
"I guess." The bell on the microwave went off, and she retrieved her supper. She just played with it at first, then blurted out the question that was really bugging her. "Whose soul do you have?"
I had to stop and think before admitting I didn't know.
"See, that really scares me. Because, like, you remember being Martin, but you only said 'mind-patterns' were transferred. So what if you've got Michelle's soul, and what if she's done something terrible? Would that keep you out of heaven? Or what if yesterday really was you're birthday, and you're only a year old?"
"I can't go into R-rated movies?"
"I'm serious! Does that give you this totally clean slate, and can anybody get one that way? Have Martin and Michelle and Alexei already gone to heaven or hell? How does this not bother you?"
"Well, I haven't been a religious person in either of my lives. Heh, maybe I'm technically in the afterlife now."
"Stop joking about it! This is important!"
"It doesn't matter." I held up a hand to squelch her protest. "Look, whatever the situation is, whether I've got Martin's soul or Michelle's soul or a new soul or some sort of mix of Martin's and Michelle's with a little bit of Alexei's left over from when he was in this body, or even if souls don't exist or they do but I'm some kind of soul-less zombie because the switching thing sent them off to whatever afterlife they go to... I don't know, and I can't know, so what good does it do to worry? I just have to live my life the best I can and hope for the best, just like anhyone else."
Maureen really didn't like that idea; it just seemed contrary to what she believed. There has to be some sort of continuity - it just didn't seem right that I wasn't either Martin or Michelle.
I told her I understood, that a lot of the time I still think I'm Martin, because that's what my memories say. But, hey, welcome to planet Earth - life's complicated.
She said it shouldn't be, and I can't say I disagree.
Well, my little stunt last night hasn't gotten me thrown out of the apartment yet. I think that's good; I think it means that we're going to live with it.
It was fun, though - we had mostly people from BioSoft, although neither of the founders came. Carter didn't invite anybody; he said he meant to, but never got around to it. Maureen was kind of put out that only a few of her friends from school and church had even RSVP'd. She said she expected it after the falling-out she and Mary had (Mary being her previous roommate), but it was disappointing for her.
I barely had time to get showered and changed before Maggie showed up. Carter said he was sort of surprised that I didn't wear something trashy, but I figured that would make him and Maureen uncomfortable. So I just went with a sleeveless top and some loose-fitting slacks. Besides, there was no time to shave my legs on Monday.
Maggie was the first to get there, and she'd finally gotten around to asking that guy from work out. Rick's a decent looking guy, but you can sort of tell he usually wears glasses. Nice guy, if a little nervous, could not wait for other people to arrive so that he wouldn't be the only guy in a room with four women. I know the feeling; a lot of guys get out of science/engineering schools and then go to work at a similar environment and just aren't sure how to behave in an environment where there's a lot of girls. They're afraid those women will suddenly start talking about their periods or something similarly gynecological. I certainly remember being there.
Other folks started coming, though, and the room filled up. We put some music on, which was a weird mix: Maureen's tastes run from country to Christian, Carter's to hip-hop, mine to Barenaked Ladies and Huey Lewis. You could get whiplash going from one song to the next.
Around 8:30, the doorbell rang and I sent Mags to answer it. I felt kind of sneaky, but she'd been the one I'd sent to talk to Kurt and Wei, and so they expected to see her. The plan, and it was a silly plan, was for them to not realize they were at my party right away, but I guess they bumped into Kate pretty quickly, since it wasn't that big a party. At first, they said they thought it was a weird coincidence, but then Kate said, no, it was mine and Sam and Maureen's party, and went to fetch me.
Kurt said he thought this wasn't very funny, and they were going to leave. I begged them not to, and said there was a good reason, and just mix and mingle for a while.
About forty-five minutes later, when I figured people would be ready to start leaving anyway (work the next day, you know), I hit stop on the CD player, and then did the whole spoon-on-wineglass thing to get people's attention. Then I went into my pockets for the notecards.
"Hi. Most of you know me, more or less, and I wanted to get you all together. It's sort of under false pretenses; I told you this was a housewarming party, but it's really kind of a birthday party." Lots of looking around, as it couldn't be MINE, that was back in November.
"A year ago today, I woke up in a strange room with a face I didn't recognize in the mirror. I had to look in my wallet to learn the name 'Michelle Garber.'"
Carter grabbed my wrist, hissing a question about what I was doing into my ear. I whispered back to relax, his secret was safe. Kate was the one who blurted out "you had amnesia?", but everyone else was thinking of it.
"I wish. No, I remembered my entire life. It just didn't belong to this body." Confused noise. "A lot of you were at BioSoft; this is what got the FBI involved. Dmitri Gubanov and some unknown accomplices had stitched a couple of different projects together to form a body-switching technique. My memories, and a lot of my personality, came from someone else. I pretended to be Michelle because I'd been left a note saying that if I didn't... Well, look what had already happened, right? Someone who could do this, think of what else they could do."
Pregnant pause. Then Jen started to laugh, and soon pretty much the whole room joined in. I mean, even I had to sort of smile. It just sounded so absurd. The only other folks not laughing were Carter, Doug, and Maggie.
"She's telling the truth!" Everyone turned to look at Maggie. "I didn't believe it at first, either, but she brought me this bottle of stuff to analyze, and although it didn't switch bodies, it was some of the most amazing stuff I've seen, an aphrodisiac that targets a specific genetic signature that her boyfriend was using on her. Just groundbreaking, and really terrifying. I asked her why she brought this to me, when MIT was just up the road and there are, like, a dozen research hospitals nearby, and she said she knew me from... well, from before."
More laughter. But not as much, and some of it was pretty nervous. Wei looked at Maggie, then at me, and I think she'd put half of it together but couldn't quite get past the barrier of common sense. "So, Michelle, just who are you?"
This was the hard part; I flicked through my cards until I found the right one, and started to read kind of mechanically. "Before I answer that, I just want to make something clear - who I remember being doesn't change who I am. I'm the same girl a lot of you have known for the last year. I may have used Michelle's name, but I never pretended to be a different type of person. Everything I've said about what I like, how I feel, or what you guys mean to me... It's all the truth. It's very important to me that you understand that."
No-one was laughing.
"I think Dmitri and his father chose the person I remember being because that person was on my way out of town, to start a new job in a new city where no-one knew him and he could start fresh. They somehow put something in one of my drinks and it got into his brain--"
"Hold on. Hold the fuck on." Kurt looked vaguely sick. "What the fuck do you mean by 'him'?"
"I mean..." My mouth was suddenly really dry and my wineglass was empty. "I mean that every memory I have from before a year ago, and every personality trait that comes from experience and not biology, originally belonged to a man named Martin Hartle."
Kurt sort of imploded. His date stared daggers at me. Wei's fiancé Jim just looked confused, and Wei didn't seem to know whether to look at me or Kurt. She wound up turning to Maggie, asking if this was true, because it was certainly well past the point of being funny. Maggie said she freaked when she first found out, but too many little details fit. That saying I was Martin Hartle in Michelle Garber's body was oversimplifying things, but it was how she thought of me most of the time.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kate putting her arms around her chest. "I shared changing rooms with him!"
Kate turned her head to face Doug, connected some dots, and then her eyes bugged. "Oh my god, you..."
"Yeah. It's weird to think about, but she's a great girl. And she is a woman; you won't find a Y-chromosome in her body, and she's got all the normal hormones and, uh, everything else. That she's been able to adapt to all this... I mean, it can't be easy."
"Oh, she's easy." The attention was back on Kurt. "I can't believe this. Martin's my best friend, and I won't have him insulted like this..."
Wei cut him off. "You haven't heard from Martin in a year. Neither of us have, he didn't even acknowledge the wedding invitation. His mother was worried sick. This would explain why." She turned to me. "But why are you telling us this? Why not just leave well enough alone? I mean, if what this guy [Doug] says is true, you're doing okay."
It was a fair question. I was about to answer when Maureen, of all people, jumped in. "She's living a lie. I mean, even if she doesn't actually say anything that's not the truth, she's hiding something from the people she cares about. How long did you know this Martin Hartle person?" Wei said it must have been ten, twelve years. "See? Even if she's not actually Martin, she's got those years inside her, and it's not right for her to have to pretend she doesn't."
I was kind of surprised. "Uh, thanks, Maureen, but if that were it, that would just be selfish. The fact is, the person with Martin Hartle's body and DNA and everything is still out there. The FBI is looking for him, because he's got the memories of Dmitri's father--"
Jen piped in that it was getting a bit confusing for a simple blonde like her; I promised to draw her a chart later. We hadn't planned it, but the exchange broke the tension, and there was a bit of laughter.
"Anyway, what if he came to you, Wei, and asked for help? Would you put yourself at any sort of risk for someone you thought was an old friend?" Maybe, she said, she just might. "I don't think he'd do the same. He's already abandoned his pregnant fiancée in Seattle. Even if it's hard to know about me, you deserve to know about him."
"OK, I buy that, Mi-- I can't call you Michelle. Maggie, what do you call her?"
I interrupted. "That's the other thing I wanted to announce. Doug's been helping me with the paperwork, but I'm having my name changed, legally. I've seldom really felt comfortable using Michelle's name, even though she is a part of who I am. But in a couple weeks, when everything goes through, I'll be Martina Michelle Hart."
"OK, Mar-tee-na. I hope you understand that you've given us a lot to think about..."
This, everyone could agree on. If you ever want to clear a party, announce that you sort of used to be a member of the opposite sex who had had their mind swapped with someone else. Within a half hour, Maureen, Carter, and I had the house to ourselves again. I'd kind of expected there to be questions, but nobody seemed to want to ask them. Even Maggie and Doug left, seeing that my roommates had some things to get off their chests.
Which left me with Maureen and Carter. Maureen asked Carter if he had known, and Carter said, yeah, Dmitri was going to use "her" body to ferry people into the country.
"That's horrible." She started to clean the place, just to have something to do, but her hands were shaking. "We're going to have to talk about this, but I need some time to digest this. We will talk tomorrow, though, Mi...Martina."
She she went to her room, and Carter to ours, looking none to happy I'd opened my big mouth. Which left me with a room to clean up.
Which was okay; I could use some boring chores to keep my mind off the fact that I'd just done something I couldn't take back.
Feel like I should have an entry for today
...and since I don't know if I'll have time after the party, I'm just going to dash a quick one off before going to work. This combination of mind and body is now a year old, and it feels good. Happy birthday to me.
Back and Forward
I can't help it. I know I've got to be at work at ten tomorrow morning, but I can't seem to help myself from staying up all night. After all, the big swap happened some time between 11pm of 18 July and 4am the next morning a year ago, and some irrational part of my brain expects something to happen exactly one year later. Of course, "exactly one year later" would have been something like eighteen hours ago, when you consider that this is a leap year and the actual solar year is about 365.25 days long. But we human beings get arbitrary time periods into our heads.
So I'm fiddling around, reading my first posts from a year ago. Or, if you want to get technical, the original Martin Hartle's last posts and my first ones. It actually puts things in a kind of perspective to go back and read them. I kind of wish "I" had started blogging earlier, so that I'd have more of a record of my first life. Memory isn't just a videotape of one's life, it's a whole bunch of constantly updated cross-references, and after a year, many of my memories of being a man have sort of become about how it was different from who I am now. I'm already starting to forget how alien my body felt at first, or how mortifying people treating me like a girl seemed; I read or think about that stuff and it's like "wow, you were silly back then".
Now? I'm sort of liking my life. Doug took me out to a club on Friday. I was comfortable, wearing tight and low-cut stuff that showed off my boobs and legs, and managing my heels without any trouble even after I had a couple drinks in me. Heck, I was able to handle my alcohol intake because I know my capacity now. I could pace myself until about eleven, when we headed back to Doug's place.
Lawyers make good money. I doubt the nice apartment Nat alluded to out in Seattle is quite as nice as the one where Doug lives. No roommate, but you could rent it as a two-bedroom because he uses one as a study/home office. There's a couch in there that folds out to a bed if someone needs to crash for a bit.
Not that I was having any of that. We were both loose - though not quite loose enough to forget the condom; I'm not ready to be both a father and a mother yet - and we pleased each other quite nicely. It wasn't either urgent or hesitant; just two people who really like each other trying to make each other happy. We both fell asleep with smiles on our faces.
I admit, I made waffles when we woke up just to use the cool stainless-steel appliance; besides, it was kind of fun to be the girl, making her guy breakfast and delivering it in just an oversized t-shirt and panties. I find I kind of have to reinforce that with Doug; his mind naturally tends to look for the thing which contradicts what he's told. It makes him a good lawyer, but can make our relationship tricky.
So we fooled around a little more after breakfast, and I told him I'd had a great time but, you know, he had promised me a movie. So, not wanting to be remiss, he ordered us some tickets for Harry Potter at the Aquarium's IMAX screen online. I teased him about it being overcomensating, but we still had a pretty good time. I did, however, grin like a fool when I saw that Spider-Man 2 would be playing there starting next week.
Can't get the whole weekend off, though, so I had to work today. And then when I got home, I started getting stuff ready for tomorrow, since I won't have much time between when I get off work and when I expect people to start showing up.
And now that I should get some sleep, I can't. It's like staying up until midnight on New Year's Eve; you know it doesn't really mean anything, that it's just an arbitrary point to mark off where one year starts and another begins (and that "year" in this case isn't quite the exact term a unit of measurement should be)... but...